The Forth and Clyde Canal, Scotland, UK Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Forth and Clyde Canal, Scotland, UK

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The Forth and Clyde Canal stretches across central Scotland from Grangemouth on the River Forth, to Bowling on the River Clyde.

The Planning of the Route

The idea for a man made waterway between the German Sea (now called the North Sea) and the Irish Sea was first put forward by Charles II (1660-1685) who saw it as a way to safely move his warships from one coast to the other. It was not until 1763 that the Forth and Clyde navigation company commissioned the engineer John Smeaton to carry out a survey that would determine the best route. In 1764 Smeaton presented two options:

  1. Grangeburnfoot (on the River Forth) to the River Clyde at Yoker (just west of Glasgow), via Dullatur Bog and the Kelvin Valley

  2. Grangeburnfoot to the River Clyde at Dumbarton (about 20 miles west of Glasgow), via Stirling, the River Endrick, Loch Lomond and the River Leven

Route two was completely unacceptable to the merchants of Glasgow who, in 1767, asked Robert Mackell and James Watt to amend route one so that the canal would enter the Clyde in Glasgow. This was not really practical as the Clyde was not very deep in Glasgow at this time. Eventually a compromise was reached. The canal would follow route one but enter the Clyde at Dalmuir (eight miles west of Glasgow), and a branch line would be built from Stockingfield (in the northwest of Glasgow) to Hamiltonhill (a mile from Glasgow city centre). A bill was introduced to Parliament in October 1767, and was passed in December 1767. £150,000 was to be raised in shares of £100.

Building the Canal

On 10 June, 1768, construction work finally started at the eastern end of the route. Rather unusually for the time, the project used mainly local labour, whereas most major engineering projects of the time used Irish or Highland labourers. By autumn 1773, the canal had reached Kirkintilloch, and the decision was made to open it to traffic, Kirkintilloch being near enough to Glasgow to transfer goods to carts. The next phase to be completed was Kirkintilloch to Stockingfield. This was opened in 1775. At this time a decision was made to build the branch to Hamiltonhill before completing the main line to Dalmuir, this branch being opened in November 1777. Unfortunately, at this point the canal company ran out of money.

In the mid-1780s a loan was secured from the forfeited Jacobite estates fund and work restarted. It was in this phase of building that the impressive Kelvin Aqueduct (taking the canal over the River Kelvin) was constructed, on land purchased from the Gairbraid Estate. In 1785 the route to the Clyde was altered again so that the canal would now enter the Clyde at Bowling, three miles west of Dalmuir.

On 28 July, 1790, the Forth and Clyde canal was finally opened along its whole length. In 1793 the Glasgow branch of the canal was extended to Port Dundas, half a mile from Glasgow city centre, where it was linked to the Monkland canal. In 1822 the Union canal (officially the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union canal) was linked to the Forth and Clyde canal at lock 16 in Falkirk, thereby creating a waterway between the centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Fall of Canal Traffic

Although very successful in its early days, the canal inevitably became a victim of the success of the railways. In 1867 the canal was sold to the Caledonian Railway Company as part of a package which included Grangemouth docks. Traffic continued to decline and after 1918 mainly fishing boats and pleasure craft used the canal.

Ownership of the canal was transferred to the British Transport Commission in 1948 and in 1962 control of the canal was handed over to the British Waterways Board. In the same year the Denny bypass on the Glasgow to Stirling road was being built, and rather than spend £160,000 on a lifting bridge a decision was taken to close the canal. On the 1 January, 1963, navigation from Grangemouth to Bowling was no longer possible. In the following years several parts of the canal were filled in and lifting bridges were changed to fixed bridges when road upgrading projects were carried out.

The Millennium Link Project

In the 1990s the Millennium Link project to reopen both the Forth and Clyde canal and the Union canal was started. A series of official ceremonies was performed on 26-28 May, 2001, in all the local authority areas that the Forth and Clyde canal passes through to mark its reopening.

At the time of writing, the project is due to be completed in Spring 2002 when the two canals will be linked by the Falkirk wheel, the world's first rotating boat lift. The total cost of this project is £78 million.


Canal Dimensions

  • Number of locks: 39
  • Highest point: 47.5m (156ft) above sea level
  • Length: 62.8km (39.4 miles) including Glasgow branch
  • Width: 18.3m (60ft) at water surface
  • Depth: 2.9m (9ft 6 inches)

Lock Size

  • Length: 21.3m (70ft)
  • Width: 6.1m (20ft)

Maximum Boat Size

  • Length: 20.1m (66ft)
  • Beam: 5.9m (19ft 8 inches)
  • Draught: 2.7m (9ft)

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